Long before there was Taylor Swift or Beyoncé, there was Madonna.
And long after Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, chances are there will still be Madonna. That is, if Madge’s triumphant Celebration Tour is any true indication.
While Swift is currently basking in the glow of her extremely successful and groundbreaking Eras Tour, Madonna has four decades of hits under her garter belt that Swift can’t touch, at least not for another 20-plus years. Selling a whopping 300 million-plus albums worldwide, Madonna has survived changing musical trends and has outlived most of her musical rivals. Heck, Madonna’s debut single, Everybody, was released seven years before Swift was even born. So give Madonna her due.
Getting into the groove
Madonna’s Celebration Tour, which started its two-night stint Monday night at the TD Garden, certainly lives up to its name. It’s pure, unabashed Madonna, embracing her glorious past while taking a stranglehold on the future. Not only is it a combination hit parade/trip down memory lane, it’s also a theatrical show about the pop icon’s life. And for anyone catching the show, hoping to see Madonna suffering from a Norma Desmond–like reality break, you’re out of luck. Madonna not only doesn’t look or sound or move like a woman of 65, she’s at the top of her game.
Who would have ever guessed when Madonna was rolling on the floor in a wedding dress singing Like A Virgin at the Worcester Centrum in the summer of ’85 that we would still be talking about her nearly 40 years later, let alone have audiences waiting with bated breath to see what “The Queen of Pop” has in store for us next?
Inspired by the birth of her first daughter Lourdes, Nothing Really Matters is the perfect introduction for a concert that wants to serve both as a career retrospective and character profile. Wearing a black kimono with bat-like sleeves and an encrusted silver and crystal headpiece that gave her a saintly halo, Madonna embraces the song’s inherent mantra: “Nothing takes the past away like the future/Nothing makes the darkness go like the light” for all its worth.
From there, Madonna gets into the groove and back to her roots.
With an illuminated sketch of the New York City skyline behind her, Madonna is magically teleported back to her early club-hopping days. Dancing up a storm with a lively cavalcade of quick-changing and chiseled dancers, Madonna delivered absolutely joyous renditions of Everybody and Into the Groove.
Burning up on stage
If that wasn’t enough to cause a commotion, Madonna, before performing Causing A Commotion as a singalong with the audience, professed, “I’ve been doing this (expletive) for 40 (expletive) years,” as she washes down her profanity-laced declaration with a swig of bottled beer. In addition to boasting about her longevity, Madonna also joked about her age, saying that she may have actually been in Beantown during the Boston Tea Party. Not the defunct rock club mind you, the actual pre-Revolutionary War protest.
Not missing a beat, Madonna introduced the audience to her “cute” and “sassy” former self, a 19-year-old “dumbass girl” from Detroit who ventured to New York City with a dream in her heart and a measly $35 in her pocket.
“It’s important to never forget where you come from,” Madonna insisted. “Never forget the struggle. Never forget the hunger. Never forget the heartache.”
Tired of being a broke, hungry, homeless, friendless and jobless dancer, Madonna, armed with a Rickenbacker guitar, told the crowd that she decided to become a musician instead and one of the early places she played at was the historic CBGB in New York, which she recreated with a scruffy version of Burning Up.
After playing musical chairs, Bob Fosse-style, on Open Your Heart, Madonna closed out the most fun portion of the show with the all-out dance celebration of Holiday, which ends with one of the dancers (figuratively) dying on the dancefloor, a prelude to the darkness that lies ahead.
Living to tell
Live to Tell, which has to be seen to be believed, left the audience speechless and many in tears. On this deeply moving tribute, Madonna floated above the audience in a glass elevator while black-and-white portraits were projected on stadium-sized banners throughout the arena, showing some of the great artists turned AIDs casualties including Madonna’s best friend and former roommate Martin Burgoyne, Keith Haring, Alvin Ailey and Robert Mapplethorpe for starters. As first, the images were few and far between, then, slowly, they came pouring in, one after another after another until there were too many to count.
Near the end of Live To Tell, Madonna appears to be visibly shaken as she gets consumed by the ghosts of all the artists, all the trendsetters, all the groundbreakers, all the dreamers, all her friends, many who came up about the same time as she did, but whose lives were unmercifully cut short. Personally, I have seen Madonna on every tour she has ever done except the last one, the Madame X Tour (because it was canceled in Boston at the last minute) and I have never before seen a number so provocative, so powerful, so poignant as this performed by Madonna.
Wearing stiletto heels and black boxing robe (with red teddy underneath), Madonna floated like a butterfly, stung like a “Queen Bey” (as in Beyoncé) on Erotica, a number that unfolded as a well-choreographed fist-to-cuffs between beefy palookas wearing sequin boxing gloves.
Despite Erotica kicking off the weakest segment of the concert, the segment did have its moments, including Madonna wrestling in a red velvet bed with a doppelganger sporting the infamous cone bra from her Blond Ambition Tour, twisted and contorted bodies turning into a Busby Berkeley-inspired dance number during Justify My Love and Madonna sitting on a grand piano while her daughter Mercy James tickles the ivories on Bad Girl.
Strike a pose ...
Deliciously glammy and completely over the top, Vogue was a feast for the senses. Not only did Madonna strike a winning pose, she held up cards to rate the voguing dancers as they strolled down the catwalk, including her pre-teen daughter, Estere, wearing knee-high leather boots and yellow and black catsuit.
Unfolding like a missed opportunity musical number that would have been a natural for the Barbie movie, Madonna, complete with cowboy hat and boots, delivered the irresistible country-western two-step Don’t Tell Me.
Madonna honored the spirit of her mother, who died when she was very young, as well as her son David Banda’s birth mother, who died shortly after he was born, on Mother and Father. With pictures of both mothers prominently shown onstage, Madonna pulled at the heartstrings while her son delicately strummed the guitar.
Never going for second best, baby, Madonna delivered an acoustic guitar version of Express Yourself, a song that replaces a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive that the Material Girl has been previously playing on the tour.
After a compelling video montage of all her tabloid-fodder controversies, Madonna (in a voiceover) concludes, “I think the most controversial thing I’ve ever done is to stick around.” And stuck she certainly has.
Perched on a giant illuminated cube reaching out to the cosmos, Madonna popped up wearing a skintight, silver spacesuit that Lady Gaga would absolutely go gaga for during a trippy rendition of Bedtime Story. From there Madonna was back in the glass elevator for a radiant Ray of Light.
Surrounded by a gaggle of mostly cross-dressing doppelgangers from her video archives (including the “Boy Toy” wedding gown Madonna and her character from A League of Their Own), Madonna gave Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Club a run for their money, while, once again, showing the audience what puts her in a league of her own, with the boisterous and bouncy closer, “Bitch I’m Madonna.”